June 21st, 2012

The Sizzle, or, Choreography for Strippers, Part Two:

I’m back with Part Two of my Choreography for strippers story. If you haven’t read Part One, you’ll find it, and my bit of a disclaimer, below.

Once my friend and I had decided she should do an old-fashioned striptease routine, slightly modified for the contemporary audience, we immediately began working out her act. I know that there are exceptions to some of the things I’m going to say below, but bear in mind that we were trying to create an act that could be repeated many times with little or no variation. Something that might work of a couple on a particular evening in the living room wasn’t what we were going for. Being that we actually were grad students, you won’t be surprised to learn that we did as much research as we could, broke things down into their component parts, and analyzed the crap out of them:

The music:

I’d say the single most important part of the act. Think of a film with a horrible score, and you’ll get my drift.  “Got to be bluesy,” I said. “Hip swaying music, blood thumping music.” As Carl Hiaasen observed in the novel Striptease some years after this, it’s hard to be sexy when you’re bouncing up and down to rock and roll. You need to be able to move your body sinuously, as well as sensually. So we went where most white girl PhD candidates in those days went when they needed something recognizable but bluesy: early Led Zeppelin.  While there are still some of those songs that would work, today I’d probably recommend Stevie Rae Vaughn, or that new/old standby, Randi Newman’s “You Can Leave Your Hat On”, practically any version will do.

What not to use: C&W; love songs; practically anything with the word “sexy” in the lyrics

The shoes:

Easy: the highest shoes you can move well in. We’re all familiar with the aphrodisiac quality assigned to high heels,  but stumbling, or having to wave your arms to catch your balance is incredibly not sexy. Also, try for shoes that show as much as possible of your feet – again, without being so flimsy they’re dangerous.

What not to wear? No mules or slides (remember that the shoes don’t come off). Worst thing? Running shoes; anything with laces; flats.

The hair:

Short hair? No problem. Long hair? Get it up and out of the way. Do your best to make sure it stays that way. It isn’t that long hair can’t be used to good effect when loose, but remember what I said about the living room?

The clothing:

General rules:  skirts are sexier than pants, short skirts sexier than long (unless tight); zippers sexier than buttons (buttons can be sexy, but only top half, in front; the contortions you have to go through to undo a row of buttons down your back are distracting, not sexy [unless there’s some B&D going on, which is also another topic]). Blouses sexier than sweaters (for taking off, not looking at). Stockings (with or without garter belt) are sexier than pantyhose. Note that if stockings are worn, they, like the shoes, will stay on.

What not to wear? Socks. Yes, even knee socks with the schoolgirl outfit. Over-the-knee-socks aren’t socks you silly, they’re thick stockings.

As for removing the clothing, slow is sexier than fast, and smooth is sexier than jerky. Hence all the emphasis on zippers and where the buttons are. Lingerie? Some of it’s coming off, some of it isn’t, plan accordingly. At the time my friend was doing this, you could be naked from the waist up, but not below, where a G-string or equivalent was required. My friend would start off with dance pants (like the bottom half of a teddy for those of you not in the know, [a teddy is a . . . oh never mind]) and eventually  remove them to reveal the G-string.

What not to use: Velcro; You want to remove the clothing slowly.

The outfit:

We eventually created two outfits for my friend. The first might loosely be called the sexy librarian, and the second what we now think of as the Catholic school girl look. We started with that one, in fact, since my friend had actually been a Catholic school girl, and her uniform skirt still fit. It was during our discussion of how to remove things in a sexy manner that the subject of kilts came up, and she mentioned that the only kilt she’d ever had was part of her high school uniform. The rest of the outfit we had to find replacements for, though if I remember correctly, we did use her school jacket, once we’d taken the crest off and replaced it with something generic.

So, the whole outfit consisted of: high-heeled shoes, stockings with a garter belt, G-string, dance pants, matching strapless bra, shirt-cut blouse (buttons on cuffs and down front), school jacket, and school tie. Once we’d chosen the parts, we had to make sure we could make the whole look appealing, and that all the pieces could come off easily – no tugging, or jerkiness. We had to enlarge some buttonholes, for example, make sure the kilt could be held closed with only one closure, which could be easily undone.

Remember Gypsy Rose Lee’s gloves? We did. And we did our very best to include gloves in one of our outfits. The problem? No matter what we did, we just couldn’t modify the fasteners in such a way that they could be manipulated smoothly with gloves on. We did eventually come up with a opera-gloves-and-evening-gown outfit, but for a variety of reasons we never went with it.

Ah. Something occurs to me. I want to emphasize here that at the time we’re talking about, my friend was 24 years old, and could in no way be mistaken for anything other than an adult (albeit young) woman with a fully mature adult woman’s body. The school girl look is a fantasy for adults, not pedophilia.

So, given the outfits I’ve described, what comes off first? What would be your guess?

You know, I think I’m going to have to uncover those secrets next time.

Stay tuned for Part Three, The Moves, Or, Why a Strapless bra?

May 18th, 2012

The Gloves are Off, or, Choreography for Strippers, Part One

I want to begin with a bit of a disclaimer: I have no objection to women taking off their clothes for money — whether the audience is predominantly male or female – so long as it’s their choice and their money, and the environment, like any working environment, is safe. Likewise for the selling of anything that by its nature belongs to the seller. I’m aware that the industry as it exists inNorth Americais often not a particularly safe one for women to be in, and I’m not in any way recommending this as a career choice for anyone. I’m only relating an episode in my own life.

It’s a cliché that most strippers are working on their master’s degrees, usually in social work or psychology. Notice it’s always a Masters, by the way, never a Bachelor’s degree, and hardly ever a PhD. So, aren’t these girls grad students, you ask? OK . . . no.

Then why this make believe? Believe it or not, it’s in order to maintain an atmosphere of — well if not of romance, at least of camaraderie. The audience can tell themselves this isn’t just some woman with no other skills, possibly forced by her “manager” to take off her clothes for strangers. This is a hard-working, educated gal, fully self-aware, who’s doing this because where else could you make so much money and have so much fun at the same time? And the money is going to a socially laudable use, education.

Okay, so how did I get involved in this? Well, see, there was this grad student . . . no seriously, I won’t go on until you stop looking at me like that. Okay, that’s better. It’s not like I met a stripper who was a grad student, I met a grad student who was a stripper. See? Totally different. The opposite, in fact.

So we’re chatting in our shared office one afternoon and, as often happens when people speak to each other everyday (at least if they’re women) all kinds of topics are covered, and uncovered. And in discussing what we did to make extra money over the stipend the university gave us for being TA’s, it eventually came out that my friend was a stripper. Not all the time, but in the summer, and over longer holidays like the Christmas and Easter breaks.  The fact is, there is money to be made, and there are, actually, some “nicer” places to work.

But the big money, she told me, isn’t in table dancing. As in other areas of the entertainment business, the big money goes to the headliners. These are the girls who do a “feature” performance. Most girls do get a bit of time onstage, where they can attract the attention of the people who then have them dance at their tables. They keep the money the clients pay them, less a percentage (or a flat fee) to the house.  But most of the high-end clubs have featured dancers, who do some kind of routine. These girls are acts, they get paid an agreed upon fee – even, possibly, a cut of the cover charge –  because they’re bringing in customers. It’s not unknown for connoisseurs of the art to follow their particular artist from venue to venue.

My friend wanted to become one of these featured performers, but didn’t have a “hook”. Some girls, she explained to me, were trained dancers, or singers, or played a musical instrument, and could build acts around these talents. My friend was an English major, like myself. “What am I going to do,” she said, “read to them?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe what you do, exactly, isn’t all that important.” I told her of an anecdote I’d heard about the most famous stripper of them all, Gypsy Rose Lee. A couple of reporters had been sent to interview her when she arrived in their city (Las Vegas orMiami, I can’t now remember which). As they met her, she began to take off her gloves – all ladies wore gloves in those days, especially while travelling. Afterwards, the reporters were unable to recall what questions they’d asked, or what answers they’d been given. All the woman did was take off her gloves. “Maybe that’s what you should do,” I told my friend. “Maybe you should do an old-fashioned strip tease.”

Now, unlike my friend, I’d actually seen an old-fashioned strip-tease, once, when, with the help of some false ID, I’d gone to see a burlesque show at the Victory Theatre in downtownToronto. I’d also seen a piece of a real strip-tease act in a documentary film about night clubs inParis.

Funny the stuff you remember, isn’t it?

“The concept at the core of the strip tease,” I reasoned. “Is that a half-clothed person is sexier than a fully naked person. It’s the anticipation of what comes next that people find arousing.”

“So we’re selling the sizzle, not the steak?”

“Pretty much.”

That’s how things got started. Now that the gloves are off, do you want to see, uh, hear anymore? Let me know

February 23rd, 2012

 My SF Signal Podcast – Cue the lights!

Last night, February 22nd, I had my first podcast experience ever, with the terrific people at SF Signal. We were talking Sword and Sorcery, but I’m not going to go into detail (does “Boondock Saints” have all the elements of S&S?) you can listen to Lou Anders, James L. Sutter, Scott H. Andrews, Patrick Hester, Jaym Gates and me on Monday, February 27th, at http://www.SFSignal.com. What I’d rather do is talk about my own experience.

Those of you who know me know that I live in rural southeasternOntario. There’s no cable out here, we don’t have satellite, and cell phone service can be intermittent (especially for IPhones for some reason, so we don’t use them). Reliable highspeed only became available about three years ago, and wireless . . . well, see my observation on cell phones.

All of this makes me a bit out of the loop when it comes to matters internetual; I’ve been playing catch-up for years, and expect to go on doing so. This podcast was a great opportunity, I thought, to try out the Skype software I already have on my Netbook. So I got a Skype account, arranged with a couple of friends to make and receive calls so I had the hardware down, figured out what I would wear, and thought, “okay, here we go.”

Then I find out that this isn’t going to be a video podcast. Nope, audio only. Now I know what you’re thinking, any normal person would be thanking their deity of choice (and maybe even a couple of others) that they didn’t have to appear on camera. Well not me. You see, I have telephone anxiety. Of course I’ve had this all my life, so while it’s still very difficult for me to talk to people on the phone, I have come up with all kinds of coping strategies and tricks to help me out. That said, I’ve never phoned for a pizza in my life. Yes, that’s right, it’s easier for me to eat something else. Hell, it’s easier to make the pizza from scratch.

You can imagine what a god-send email was for me.

I’m okay with people I’ve known for a long time, once I’m actually on the phone at least; it’s easier if people phone me, so I no longer have to shut the phones off if I’m alone in the house. What really, really helps, however, is seeing people face-to-face, or at least having met them face-to-face at some point. So when Jaym Gates told me we’d be doing audio only, the thought that went through my mind wasn’t “oh good, I can be in my pjs”, but “OMG I have to talk to five strangers all at once, on the phone!”

Then I thought, no, it’s okay, I know Saladin Ahmed, Saladin will be my safe place, the person I know, the face I’ve seen. Except he’s not on the list I gave you in the first paragraph, is he? No, because he was struck down with a horrible stomach virus just in time to be unable to participate. So, there went my safety net. All of this anxiety resulted in my not being as up on the hardware as I thought I was. No, Violette, it’s not going to “ring” as it does when there’s a regular call, there’s going to be a tiny, little line that asks you to accept an invitation to a chat and you have to click on that, you fool. Now! Do it now!

But once we started I was okay, right? Well, actually, right. I’ve never met such wonderful and welcoming strangers in my life. And of course, once I got distracted by the topic so near and dear to all of us, anxiety sort of faded away. So thanks guys, and thanks SFSignal, for making my first podcast experience so enjoyable – at least, once it actually began. I’ll never have this worry again. Well, hardly ever.

Don’t forget, Monday, February 27th, http://www.SFSignal.com.

February 1st, 2012

Readings Right, and Readings Wrong

Over the course of my career I’ve given all kinds of readings, from story books to pre-schoolers (to support early literacy) to academic papers on 18th-century pastoral poetry (to support my academic career). I’ve had everything from great experiences (the kids really liked the animal noises) to eye-rolling ones (someone should have told the hotel hosting the NEASECS Conference that we would need lecterns) to amazing ones (people turned out at 8:30 on a Saturday morning to hear about the georgic).

I’ve had a room full of people show up, and I’ve had no one show up at all. I’ve arrived at places that invited me, only to find no one there who knew I was expected, and, I’ve been taken out for dinner first. Altogether, a pretty mixed bag, and I don’t think there’s a single writer out there who can’t match me, story for story. So why am I taking you on this trip down readings-I-have-done lane? Because in January I found someone who did everything right!

As some of you already know, I took part in the ChiSeries this past January 11th. This reading series is AKA the Chiaroscuro Reading Series, which is sponsored by the fine Canadian indie publishing house, Chizine Publications. The first and most important thing I can say about this series is that, well, it’s a SERIES. To start with, this means this is not their first readeo. It means that they have some experience in throwing a reading, month in, and month out. So they know what’s important about the physical set-up, things like lecterns, seats, tables, lighting, and so on. They also know about the “people” aspect of things. There’s a well-chosen mix of readers. There’s someone to meet the readers, look after them, make sure they’re comfortable and watered. Let’s not forget introducing them in an entertaining way, and breaking-up the readings so that the audience has a chance to go to the bathroom and order drink/food. No one feels read AT, everyone feels read TO.

It also means they have group of regular attendees who are likely to show up every month whether they’ve heard of you or not – which, incidentally, means you’re not just reading to the converted.

Did I mention that the venue is a bar? Okay, a small bar, but that means they can book the whole room, so you have no other groups or noisy neighbours to contend with. It means there are refreshments and food for readers and attendees – the kind of food and drink you actually want and willingly pay for, not the kind you take to be polite. The bar’s within easy walking distance of public transportation, also a big plus.

I’d also like to make  clear that I’m not myself a Chizine author. That’s right, they’re sponsoring a reading series for everyone who reads and writes speculative fiction, not just as a showcase for their own authors. And while they do have their own book table there, they also have Bakka-Phoenix, the specialty F&SF bookstore, on hand with a table for the rest of us.

And if all of this wasn’t enough, I RECEIVED AN HONORARIUM. That’s right, and not just me, who had to travel to get to the event, but the other authors as well. Chizine are pros all the way, and they treat their author guests as pros.

So take notes, if any of you out there are planning to start a reading series. My special thanks and applause go to Sandra Kasturi, Helen Marshall and Dave Nickle, as well as my fellow guests, Shari La Pena and Douglas Smith.

January 25, 2012

Epic Confusion, January 2012

On occasion I’ve had to be a bit circumspect when writing about a con after the fact, because you want to be able say a lot of good things, and it isn’t always possible to do that. As some of you know, I help run Scene of the Crime, a small mystery-writing festival that takes place in August every year, and I know that sometimes it’s just impossible to have a terrific event, year in and year out, so I try to be considerate of that when I’m writing about events that I’ve attended as a guest.

Thank all the gods and goblins that I have absolutely nothing but praise for this year’s Confusion (and Epic it was), inTroy,MNlast weekend.

Confusion is a small con by many standards, but size really doesn’t matter when you get everything right. Some things anyone would agree with:  great organization in general with efficient registration; the set-up of the panel rooms; entertaining – and short – opening ceremonies; easy access to a variety of food and drink; efficient and friendly staff in the hotel – I could go on, but suffice to say that even the elevators cooperated by running smoothly.

It really was genius to get Jim C. Hines to be the MC at the opening ceremonies. Not only is Jim known and respected (cough) by all the other writers there, but he’s a funny guy – I can’t stress the importance of humour in these situations. And prepared? Well, all I can say is the only thing better than funny, is funny and prepared. Paul tells me that he asked Jim to do the eulogy at our funeral (we’re hoping to go together should it be necessary). THAT’s how good he was.

On a more personal note, Paul and I also had a great time at this con because we were able to connect with so many old and new friends. Besides people we knew well already, like Jim Hines, Michelle Sagara West and Jeff Beeler, there were a ton of people I had to take second looks at because while they’re friends, up until now they’ve been Facebook friends, not face-to-face friends. I had to squint a bit to make sure that I knew them. It’s hard to remember that just because I’ve seen pictures of your children and I know what you ate for breakfast, it doesn’t mean I’ve ever been in the same room with you.  But now I’m going to know Saladin Ahmed, Myke Cole and Kristine Smith no matter where I see them. And new friends Howard Andrew Jones and Merrie Haskell as well. I was on two panels with each of them, and they were a large part of what made those panels great.

I’m not going to tell you in detail about the panels I was on, because if you were there you know how good they were, and if you weren’t, there’s only so much “what a great panel” you want to hear. I will just touch on what makes panels great, because it ties in with what I was saying about the overall organization of Epic Confusion. Every panel had a moderator, and every moderator knew what their job was (intro the topic, make sure everyone, including the audience, gets some input, don’t let us stray too far – unless things get interesting). Every panel had experienced, professionals as panellists and there was a good mix of genres represented each time. Every panel had a thought-provoking topic – I actually had to think about what I was going to say. In other words, the answers and observations weren’t pat or obvious, so not only was I interested in what I and my fellow panellists had to say, the audience could be too.

And that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

27 November, 2011

SFContario, November 18th-20th, 2011

This is one of the newer Canadian cons, only in its second year, but I think that it may well become one of the better ones. For me it has a lot going for it: it’s in downtown Toronto, walking distance from two of my favourite eateries, The Hair of the Dog on Church and Wood, and Segovia’s on St. Nicholas. In fact, The Hair of the Dog appears as a setting in my upcoming book, The Shadowlands.

I also got to renew acquaintance with some great friends. Julie Czerneda was launching Tesseracts 15, which she edited with Susan MacGregor. Susan MacDonald launched Edge of Time, with the most magnificent cake I’ve every seen.Chris Szego and Michelle Sagara were there from Bakka-Phoenix Books, along with Leah Bobet, whose first novel is coming out in the spring. I made some great new friends as well, Hi Beverly and James!

I should also mention that the Aurora Awards were presented at this con, and my very good friends Hayden Trenholm, Derwin Mak and Robert J. Sawyer were all winners for Best Short Story, Best Related Work, and Best Novel, respectively. Couldn’t happen to nicer, more talented people.

Here are the highlights of some of my panels. For photos, check out the Photo Gallery on the homepage. If they’re not there right now, they will be soon.

The “Why YA?” panel is showing up in various forms at cons all over, and here Adrienne Kress, Susan MacDonald and Ursula Pflug brought their own unique pov’s to it. The particular thrust of this panel was, why, since the population is skewing older, should YA lit of all kinds be proving so popular? The panellists came up with a several suggestions, ranging from shorter reading times and less ideology, to a restored sense of wonder. Thankfully, I was the moderator, and didn’t have to come up with answers myself.

“It’s my Baby and You can’t Touch it” dealt with both getting and receiving criticism, and included Leah Bobet, David Clink, Elizabeth Hirst and Kathryn Cramer. All of us have at one point or another been on either side of the critiquing seesaw, so we all had lots to say. It might seem a bit staid in retrospect, but I think we were all in agreement on staying civil, and trying to balance ego with the need to listen.

“Kitchens of the Future” started off almost immediately talking about food as opposed to technology. I suppose the bottom line is no matter what technology you might be using, you’re still using it on food.  Topics ranged from eating local, to sustainable farming, to the resurgence of home canning and preserving. I was sitting with Madeleine Ashby, Lorne Kates and Merle Metalin, and this was another panel where we could have gone on talking for another hour at least.

14 November 2011 – Behaviour on Panels

I ran into something recently that reminded me of a blog that the terrific fantasy writer Michelle West did a while ago. (Check her out at msagara.livejournal.com). Michelle wrote about the proper way to take part in panels when you’re at a con. Essentially she said that a writer’s job while on a panel is to be as entertaining and informative (not necessarily in that order) about the panel topic as they could possibly be. It’s not their job (though their agents and publicists will tell them otherwise) to talk about their own books as much as they can. That, Michelle points out, is the mark of an amateur.

Oh the whole, I agree with what Michelle says. Your main concern, as a panellist, is to address the panel topic. If you’re intelligent,  lively, charming, and funny, people in the audience are going to say “gee, she sounds interesting, I’m going to buy one of her books”. If you drone on and on about your book, giving away the plot, and what makes the characters interesting, people are going to say “now I don’t need to buy that book”.  However, there are occasions when the panel topic specifically requires you to talk about how you yourself approach things such as plot, character, creating suspense, etc., in which case it’s very likely you’ll find yourself referring to your own work. In those cases, it’s still your job not to drone. Never drone.

Turns out there’s one more thing that a writer needs to be a successful panellist, something that Michelle overlooked. Perhaps something that she thought didn’t need saying.

Here it is: you need to be able to refer to/talk about/use as an example, something other than your own work. If you can’t, at  least don’t state with some pride that you don’t have time to read, and that you never watch television or movies. If you don’t read any other science fiction or fantasy work, and don’t watch the genre on TV or film, what would be the basis of your opinion on any given panel topic? You need to do this not only because the contents of your own mind are no where near as varied and  wide-reaching as the contents of the rest of the world, you need to do this so that you don’t appear disrespectful of the audience, who, generally speaking have an abiding interest in the books, TV programs and films of the genre. Otherwise they wouldn’t be at the con, attending panels.

Fan Expo, August 25th to 28th, 2011

I’ve been telling everyone who asked me about it that Fan Expo is the Canadian equivalent of ComicCon, so if you know how crazy and wild that can be, you have a pretty good idea of my 4 days at the Metro Convention Centre. I was there as a guest author, which meant that I had a table to display and sell my work, as well as being on a panel “Fantasy Worlds and How to Get There”.

I’d never been to Fan Expo before, and I was overjoyed – not to say relieved – to find myself with my good friends Karen Dales and Nancy Kilpatrick to either side of me. Always great to have some veterans on hand when you’re a newbie yourself. We writers weren’t alone in our section,  however, we shared our row with a great bunch of actors and voice actors, among whom were JP Manoux, John Stocker, Jason Deline Shawn Meunier, Hadley Kay, Cory Doran, Brian Froud and Chris Sabat. You should have seen the faces on the kids when these guys greeted them in the voices of their favourite cartoon and anime characters. Priceless. And you know that old saying “you’ve got a great face for radio”? Well, every one of these guys was stunningly handsome.
I’ll try to get some pictures on here soon, so you can see for yourselves.

with my good friend writer and editor Nancy Kilpatrick

It’s always a good con when I can get a new hat, thanks to Madhattery

My panel was on Saturday afternoon, and took me outside of the main room during the day for the first time. I was astonished to see how many people there were outside in the lobbies. I’d thought the main room was crowded! Our panel was crammed, no doubt because of the presence of Ed Greenwood, Leslie Livingston and Robert Paul

Weston. I wish I could give you some details of what we talked about, but to be honest, all I really remember is laughing a lot. We did have some great questions, and I know we all felt that we could have gone on for another hour at least.

I have to say that I had such a terrific time I’m already looking

forward to doing it again next year. I met so many wonderful people who came and told me they loved my books, and so many who bought my books for the first time. As always, it was invigorating to be in a room full of people who were interested in the same things I love. If there was any down side, it was lack of intimacy. At a con you can go and grab a drink or a coffee with someone, and have a nice long conversation, at Fan Expo that’s impossible.

So thanks so much for all of you who friended me after meeting me there. I can’t tell you how much it means.

Polaris 25, July 15-17, 2011

I know, it’s almost a month ago, and here I’m only writing about Polaris now. It’s not disinterest, I can tell you. I LOVE Polaris. It’s the  only con I go to in the summer, and that means I can wear my summer hats, always a big plus. But seriously, you know who was there this year? Charlaine Harris and Brandon Sanderson. I know Charlaine and Brandon because we all have the same agent, and that means we’ve all sat down at the same table when Jabberwocky (our agency) has hosted a dinner at a world con. When you’ve eaten together, there’s slightly more depth to the relationship than just nodding at someone when you’re on their panel. Which pretty much describes, for example, my relationship to Walter Mosley, or Mike Reznick.

I didn’t get to be on a panel with Brandon this time, but I was on a couple with Charlaine. The first, The Lure of the Vampire, also had Karen Dales and Stephanie Bedwell-Grimes on it, so it was old home week for me. (Karen and I also shared a table in dealer’s row, more on that later). There are pictures of us, but for now I’m going to have to ask you to check my Facebook page for them, as I’ve misplaced my own camera. I was the moderator for this panel as, you guessed it, I was the only person there who doesn’t write vampire fiction. Or at least who hasn’t yet. Never say never. Each of the participants has their own particular take on the vampire mythos, and we talked about not only why the idea of vampires is so attractive to readers, but why it’s attractive for writers as well. Sure, the eroticism is a factor for both, but there’s also the lure of putting your own spin on a traditional trope – which these three ladies have all done.

The second panel I did with Charlaine was Damsels in Distress no More. The other panelists were Liv Uhrig and Kate Halloran. Here I was able to participate a bit more completely, as I definitely do write books in which the damsels are not in distress. It was interesting for me to hear what the others, who write more urban fantasy than I do, had to say about making sure their women were real, modern women, without the advantage that I have of putting a sword in their hands. It’s much harder, I should think, to avoid conventional and outmoded portrayals of women when you have as your backdrop our own society. In my books, I can invent a society in which women were always equal.

I also had a blast at the panel Literary Comfort Food: Re-visiting Your Favourite Books, with Rebecca Lovatt, Lara Herrera and Sarah McCully.  We very quickly established that we all did re-read and re-visit favourite books, and got onto when, why and how we did so. Primarily we found that we all, including the audience, re-visited books to re-connect with favourite characters, or places. But there were other reasons, some practical (how did so-and-so handle this same problem in her book?) some therapeutic (I’m tired/stressed/ill in bed and can’t concentrate on something new). Only one other of the panelists confessed to re-reading when facing a writing deadline, though many people admitted to re-reading a particular book, or set of books, every year.

Do you re-read a particular book or set of books every year? I’d be interested to know what it/they is/are. Mine is the works of Jane Austen. Used to be LOTR, but I still find I can’t put them down once started, and that plays havoc with my own writing schedule.

The last panel I was on was Boy Fiction? along with Kate Halloran, Kelley Armstrong and Deanna Toxopeus. We were addressing the New York Times review of “Game of Thrones” which referred to it as “boy fiction patronizingly turned out to reach the population’s other half”, and essentially talked about why this stereotype (that women don’t read/enjoy F&SF) continues to exist. We concluded that some of it may simply be that non-genre critics don’t understand the genre they’re reviewing; that even in cutting edge genres such as ours, changes to social norms take time, and while we may see them in the books we read, and even in the books we write, new attitudes take time to filter into the zeitgeist. I know that it’s not uncomon for female fans and even writers of F&SF to be reluctant to admit to same in certain situations.

I did have a table in dealer’s row this year, but I have to say that I don’t think I will again. I sold a lot of books, but not more on a per hour basis than I did selling them during my signing last year. Still, I’m happy to sell books, and I’m happy to sign them, and to get a chance to greet people as they go by me. So why won’t I do it again next year? Because there are lots of places and opportunities for me to sell and sign books, and only one Polaris. I didn’t get to see any other panels, for example, what with having to attend the table, either Paul and I were always occupied, and not with each other. We’ve always treated cons as mini-vacations: relax, eat out, sit in the bar and watch the world go by, hotel sex (oops, did I say that outloud?). You know, a holiday. A holiday where I get to where hats. If we stand behind a table, we sell books, but we miss the con experience, and that’s just too precious for us.

So that was Polaris this year. Hope I didn’t go on too long.

Good News and Bad News

Monday, June 27th, 2011

So there’s good news, and bad news.  The good news is The Shadowlands is in the publication schedule. This is a very good
thing, because unless you’re in the schedule, your book isn’t going to come out. When you hear writers talk about deadlines, they’re talking about getting things finished in time to meet the schedule.

So what’s the bad news? I’m in the schedule for August 2012. Yes. That’s a whole year away. Now, I know what you’re going to ask. How did this happen? To be honest, I don’t know. I only found out I wasn’t in the 2011 schedule when I handed in the first draft of SL (on time, I hasten to add). Since it wasn’t something I did, however, the publishers aren’t required to tell me what it was. Nor should they, when you think about it. My contract with them is solid, and we’re all in the groove. I hand in a revised, final manuscript, and they have 2 years to publish it. You follow? To be given a publication date before I’ve handed in the final manuscript is actually more than my contract requires (and yes, that’s a standard contract).

What my publishers aren’t required to do, is explain to me why they move these dates around, and, as I said, I’m not sure I want them to. So long as it isn’t my fault (there’s that Catholic guilt) I can breath easy. It’s not my business. It’s either the business of my publishers, and/or the business of one or more of their other authors. And let me tell you, if I were the other author in question, I’d be really upset if my business was being told to someone else. So am I curious? You betcha. Do I have a right to ask? Well, I
can ask, but I don’t have the right to an answer.

Okay, so, bad news. No new novel out from me this year. Good news? I’ve got more time to finish the final draft of The Shadowlands. That in itself has good and bad elements to it. I shouldn’t take six months to do the final rewrite – that means I’m getting lazy. But I could, if I needed it. The point, after all, is to make this the best possible book.  This gives me every
chance to do that.

Of course, it also means that, since SL is the sequel to The Mirror Prince, it’ll be that much longer for a new Dhulyn and Parno novel to come out. I can only hope that those of you who are fans don’t forget about them, and in order to help you, I’m going to write some D&P short stories, and put them on my website, to keep them fresh in your minds.

I’ll be blogging more regularly, too, now that I’m back from Spain, and the garden is in. So I’ll be keeping you up-to-date on what’s happening with me, and my writing. And I’ll finish my series on How I Got Published. Speak to you soon.

How I Got Published, Part Three

February 20th, 2011

I want to start off today by reminding you of the very real importance of having a complete manuscript to show either an agent or a publisher. When you’re submitting, of course send them what they ask for, usually a synopsis and a specific number of pages. But if you don’t have the whole manuscript ready to send when they ask you for it, how do you think that’s going to look?

The first thing Joshua recommended to me was to read Scott Meredith’s Writing to Sell.

Most “how to” books written by agents and editors are chock full of useful pointers, and this one’s no different. If nothing else, the book gave me a good idea of how to construct an outline, that is, how to plan out a whole, complete storyline. Let me say here that I’m neither pro- nor anti- outline, in principal. They work for some people, they don’t work for others. There are some clues to help you figure out which group you’re in, and if you want to know them, write me.

The thing was, my agent wanted to see an outline, and when you’re just starting out, the publisher is also going to want to see an outline. So for one reason or another, it’s a good idea to know how to create one. Remember, it’s an outline, not a straight jacket.

What I found helpful about the process in this instance – working through the outline for The Mirror Prince – was the necessity to consider the whole story all at once. Joshua helped me do this by asking me questions. Why have Cassandra do what she does? Why should Max have amnesia? What does the story gain, or lose, by the use of any particular element? It was a great exercise in understanding that every single part of a novel, every character, every scene, every choice you make, should do something for the novel as a whole.

Once the new outline was hammered down, I began the first draft of the new version. Two years and seven drafts later, Joshua felt he had something he could take around to publishers.  Yes. That’s how long it took. Remember me saying something about publishing being a long process?  I’ll go a bit further than that: If you’re not the kind of person who enjoys the process, you are going to have a difficult time being a writer.

I’d like to point out that it was only at this point that I received a contract from the JABberwocky Literary Agency. Let me say that again in different words: my agent worked with me for two years without any kind of commitment on my part. For all he knew, I could turn out to be one of those people who would say “thanks so much for your help and expertise, bye-bye now”.  Setting aside that I would never act in such a dishonorable and despicable way (I didn’t even think of it until afterwards), had I done so, I wouldn’t be published today, and you wouldn’t be reading this. The publishing community is a small one, and things get to be known.

Stay tuned for the next installment: what the publishers had to say.

How I Got Published, Part Two

February 7, 2011

Let’s see, where was I? Oh yes, my agent’s response to my first manuscript, an early version of The Mirror Prince. Are you ready? He HATED it. Well, to be fair, he only hated most of it, but I didn’t really see that until I read his letter a second time, the next day.

(My husband Paul’s response to my agent’s response is unprintable; suffice to say that cooler heads prevailed, but that I appreciate Paul would kill someone for me, except that since he really would kill for me, I have to make sure I use this power only for good)

Short version: my agent thought I wrote well (sigh of relief there), and that the characters were interesting; he just wished I’d given them something interesting to do. You can understand that was a bit of a blow. Here I thought I’d written something pretty darn spectacular, only to find out I wasn’t telling the part of the story that would be interesting to anyone else. The thing was, those comments were almost the least important part of the letter.  What was more important was the bit where he said he’d be happy to work with me.

Back in the day, you’d send your manuscript to a publishing house. An editor would have a look at it, and if she/he thought it had potential (you know, like you wrote well and you had interesting characters), then she/he would “work with you” until you had a book they could sell. Nowadays very few editors can do this – they’ll work with a manuscript once they’ve bought it, but not necessarily to get it into good enough shape to buy it. Publishing houses often rely on agents to do this kind of preliminary mentoring, (or winnowing out, depending on the eventual result) so what at first may have looked like a rejection, was in fact a very real and useful acceptance.

Fundamentally what was the biggest problem with my ms.? I hadn’t started the narrative in the right place. I was starting, in effect, not with the wrath of Achilles, but with the treble-yoked egg that yielded Helen of Troy and her twin brothers. Move the story up, my agent said. Start with the urgent problem, not all the back story that led up to it.  I’m a little embarrassed to say that it took a while for me to smack my forehead and say “Oh, yeah. Start in medias res, in the middle of things. You know, like all the good writers do?” Yeah, I know. I have PhD in this stuff. But to paraphrase, it’s always easier to see the mote in someone else’s eye than it is to see the plank in your own.

More on the rewriting and revising process next time.  You’ll see we aren’t even near a publisher yet. So what tips do I have for you today?  Publishing can be a long process, sometimes a very long process. Hang in there, be patient. In the meantime, be ready to take advice, to listen to other professionals in the field. Tim Powers once said that the difference between professional and amateur writers was that the pros know they need to revise, while the amateurs think they got it right the first time.

How I Got Published, Part One

January 31st, 2011

As some of you know, I give a fair number of writing workshops in the area where I live, either in connection with the Wolfe Island Scene of the Crime Festival, at local area schools, or for library and book club groups. As you might well imagine, the most popular workshop I give is “How to Get Published”.

I’m not going to give you my whole workshop (unless you’re a local school, I charge for that), but I will tell you what my own experience was.

I’ll begin by saying that I do have an agent, Joshua Bilmes at JABberwocky Literary Agency, and it was my agent who sold my first fantasy novel, The Mirror Prince, to Sheila Gilbert at DAW. I do recommend having an agent, and I’ll get to why another day. So how did I get an one?

My agent happens also to be the agent of friends of mine, fantasy writers Tanya Huff and Fiona Patton. My husband Paul and I had met Tanya and Fiona some years ago at a CanCon in Ottawa, where Tanya was the Guest of Honour. We hit it off right away, and they don’t live far from us (in Canadian terms, about an hour and a half by car) and we’ve been friends ever since.

So one day they asked me, “Aren’t you going to some con called Bloody Bones or something?”

“If you mean Bloody Words,” I said, “the answer’s yes, Why?”

“Because Joshua’s going to be there, and we thought you guys should meet.” Of course Tanya and Fiona knew that I wanted to be a writer, and that I was working on a project that I was hoping would one day be published. I had even sent them an early version of a Dhulyn and Parno story, for an opinion, long before they became the main characters of their own series.

So Joshua and I did meet, and I told him that I’d once had a romance novel published (more on that only if you really want it) plus a few mystery short stories, and that I’d just finished  a novel length manuscript. There must have been something about me that he liked, because he emailed me a few days later telling me he’d be happy to have a look at my manuscript. Needless to say, I immediately sent him the 50 or so pages he’d asked for, along with a synopsis of the whole book.

His response wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for, but more on that next week.

So what tips have you picked up from my story so far?

Cultivate at least an acquaintance, if not a friendship, with other writers in your field. Do this by going where the writers are: conventions, conferences, workshops, etc. For the most part, you’ll find that writers are happy to tell you who their agents and editors are. Don’t forget to be charming, and it really helps if you’ve read their books.  Bottom line though? Don’t start looking for introductions to agents or editors until you’ve got a finished manuscript to show them.

How Writers Take a Break

January 16th, 2001

The great thing about having sent in the ms. for my latest book, working title “Hounds” is that I’ve sent in the ms. for my latest book.  Now I wait for Sheila Gilbert, my editor and publisher at DAW, to read it over, and get back to me with her suggestions for revision.

The not so great thing, besides the waiting, is that I now have to turn off the portion of my brain that’s been working with Valory and Wolf and Nik and Alejandro, and try to think about something else.  That is to say, the next book.  What I would like to write next (the next Dhulyn and Parno book), isn’t necessarily what gets written.  Sheila might like Hounds so much that she’ll ask for another book with those characters. Or she might say, “You’ve got time to come back to the D&P, or Mirror Prince universes, what do you have that’s new?”

And here’s the thing: I could write whatever book I wanted, and hope that someone buys it. But doesn’t it make more sense for a working writer to write the book she has the contract for? And since I would be happy to write any of the books for which I have crackerjack ideas, doesn’t that make everyone happy?

So here’s what I’m working on now:

The outline for the follow-up to Hounds; so I do get to play with Valory and Nik, et al, at least for a bit longer, no matter what happens.

The outline for the next Dhulyn and Parno, working title, “Beyond the Sun’s Door”

The outline for a totally new fantasy series, working title “Halls”

I already have an outline for a new SF series, working title “Artefact”

Oh, and I’m also polishing up a D&P short story, called “Blind Reckoning”. I wrote it a long time ago, before the novels were written, and it relates an adventure they had very early in their Partnership.  I’m hoping to have it on my website by the end of this week.

And now you know what writers do when they take a break.

Ad Astra- but not 2010

April 29, 2010

When I started writing this morning, I thought I was going to tell you about this year’s Ad Astra, who I spoke to, what panels I was on, and what a great time I had in general. I realized very quickly the brain wasn’t going there. Here’s where I am instead:

Ad Astra is, I think, the oldest running SF con in Toronto. The first time I went, back in the eighties, was to see Roger Zelazny. I was really glad I did, since he died a couple of days before the next time he was to be GOH at Ad Astra. If memory serves, I also saw Guy Gavriel Kay, and Steven Brust. Always nice to be able to say that you saw people “then”. One day I hope people will say the same about me.

I also hope that people will be able to say about me the type of thing that I’m going to say about Roger Zelazny. I learned a great deal from watching him at Ad Astra, as much, and maybe more than I learned about writing by reading his books. For one thing, I learned that his three favourites among his own books were Lord of Light, Isle of the Dead, and Doorways in the Sand. Which chuffed me a lot, since those were my three favourites as well.  (Me and Roger, we think alike!)

But the other things I learned were more life lessons than facts. I watched Roger (he said it was okay to call him that) talk to the fans, interact with people on his panels, and answer questions during the GOH interview, and the panel that was called “Friends of Amber”. And the thing I learned was Act Like a Gentleman. Always show your interest in the person who’s speaking at the moment. Look at the people who are speaking to you. Listen to them. Never show your impatience when the person asking you a question can’t seem to get it out — even when they’re rambling and fumbling so much that they don’t appear to have a question.

Lead them along a little, help them formulate the question if they need help. Always be gracious, warm, courteous. Treat even the people who are being a little insulting (they don’t mean it) with kindness and respect. And never, even if you’re the only one at the head table besides the person who’s interviewing you, NEVER appear to think that you are the most important person in the room.

I remember saying to my husband at the time, “That’s the way a famous person should act. If I’m ever famous, that’s the way I’m going to act.” I’m not sure, but I think Paul said, “Don’t wait, start practicing now.” So I did.

It wouldn’t have occurred to me at the time to walk up to the man and thank him for his courtesy, and his kindness to his fans, and for the lessons he taught me.  I wish now that I had, and that’s something else I’ve learned.

I picked up a box of books from my brother’s store yesterday (Novel Idea in Kingston, Ontario, in case you’d like to know). It was the very beautiful set of the collected short stories of Roger Zelazny, out from NESFA Press. So yeah, that’s probably what started me thinking about him.

“I wonder what they do teach them at these schools?”  CS Lewis

It’s been a long time since I gave up the idea of teaching in public school so I’m a little bemused at how often I now seem to be in the class room.  It makes me feel a tad subversive. I don’t think of myself as the kind of person you should expose your preteens to.

This is the second time I’ve gone over to Wolfe Island to do a creative writing project in the senior elementary classes, though this year grades 6, 7 and 8 are all in the same classroom.  This is part of an outreach project sponsored by the Scene of the Crime Festival, which spotlights Canadian crime fiction. (www.sceneofthecrime.ca) The Festival gets a lot of support from the Wolfe Island community, and this is part of how we give back.

But what I’d really like to talk about is my experience with the students, the kids themselves.

The things that surprised me: How polite they were.  Sure, they fidgeted, but they were the ones who had to sit nice and quiet. I got to stand up and pace and wave my hands. How interested they got in the process of story telling, especially in the brainstorming stage where they could suggest ideas. They were far and away more excited, and readier to participate than any group of adults I’ve taught.

I wasn’t surprised by the spread of ability and comprehension levels; the teachers had warned me that there were some students who read at the grade 3 level. I was surprised that these levels didn’t seem to have anything to do with what grade a student was in. If I had read and marked the stories submitted without knowing the students’ grades, I would have found some grade 8’s receiving D’s, and some grade 6’s receiving A’s.

More of what didn’t surprise me? How many of their ideas for problems their characters could face centred around being short of money; around problems with siblings; around their dogs and cats.  Oh yeah, and in getting killed by bad guys.  Please note, not in killing the bad guys, but in getting killed by them.

Can’t wait to see what will surprise me next year.

5 Responses to “Personal News and Notes”

  1. MarianH Says:

    Dear Violette, I am interestedly awaiting the next chapter of Choreography! It is fascinating to see how different life experiences become useful, depending on the circumstances…

  2. […] Malan on My SF Signal Podcast – Cue the lights! (Stay Tuned to this space for an exciting Podcast Event with Violette Malan , Lou Anders, James L. […]

  3. Melanie King Says:

    Just finished reading your “How I Got Published” 3-part post. Looking forward to reading more.
    I’m currently working on the 5th draft of my first manuscript so hearing that it took you 7 drafts before your agent thought he had a sellable product gives me hope, although it’s taken me longer to get to where I am.

    Looking forward to seeing you at SOTC in August!

  4. Deborah Himelhoch Says:

    I was very dissapointed that PATH OF THE SUN ended in a cliffhanger. If I had known it was not complete, I would have waited for the next book before reading it.

    • vmalan Says:

      Hello Deborah, Thanks for letting me know what you thought about PATH. You’re not the only one to consider that it ends with a cliffhanger, and I’ll agree that it does — but only in a way. In the sense that D&P aren’t back at home, wherever home is for them, then sure, it’s a cliffhanger. In the sense that the story being told in PATH reached its conclusion, it isn’t. Bad guys were defeated, good guys triumphed. D&P now have to deal with what happend to them next, which is what they’ve had to do at the end of every book. I know you’re not going to find this a satisfactory answer (I’ve already tried it out on other people) so I hope you’ll forgive me when I tell you that the next D&P adventure has been outlined, and if we’re both lucky, the publisher will buy it, for release in 2012. Thanks again.

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